Son, we’re not going to be able to make it for Thanksgiving. The dog is real sick – he’s been sick for months, but now he can’t even stand up. And I can’t just put him down to come up there, I’m sorry.
That’s the call I got last week. Last week when our turkey went into the freezer. Last week when Ole Miss got embarrassed by LSU. Last week when I thought my dad and step-mom were going to come to Boston for Thanksgiving.
They haven’t been up here since we moved up in ’07, but my dad had created and justified a reason to drive the twelve hundred miles: he was bringing us up a truckload of wood. Last year when he found out how much it costs us for firewood, he cursed the North, again, louder, and vowed to save his boy from those who would try to profit on something like firewood.
Wood has been a big part of my life. We grew up heating with wood stoves, exclusively. We turned on the electric heat twice. I can remember it smelling acrid and fake and void of any of that real grit that fire heat provides. We’d run around the wood-stoves on Christmas Eves and dry our clothes with them all winter and mull spices on the cook-tops and we’d become The Envied when we could heat water because the ice storms of February took everyone else’s power out of the town.
The wood supply was threatened when my parents got divorced. We didn’t have a truck. We had five kids now trying to survive on a single mother’s income and none of us were big enough to really wield an axe that winter. But we’d do it anyways, just cause we had to stay warm.
There’d be men at church. Men who’d take pity on my momma and who had trucks and had an extra acre they’d cleared and they’d come pick us up, the Whitson boys, and we’d ride out shotgun to the county, past the cow pastures and general stores that were now TANNING BEDS! VHS RENTAL! and we’d pick up a load or two and we’d bring it back and dump it in a pile in our driveway. We’d stack it. It’d rain and then it’d freeze, into big wooden chunks. We’d hack at it with a sledgehammer and break off chunks and we’d bring ‘em inside. To dry, by the stoves.
As I got older, I was able to handle the axe. To finally chop the wood. The giant stump that served as a base was marred with misses of the axe: swings taken in rage (at times) but out of necessity. The large pieces I’d make smaller. I’d keep the fires going all winter long, as momma was working at the bars and I was trying to keep my younger brothers and sister warm.
A lot of people want fires because they are cozy. Cause they remind folks of time together, with family. I remember them as necessity. As a practicality that has to be managed when folks are apart. So when they get in at 2 a.m. the house is warm. Being in the South doesn’t mean you aren’t used to having cold – it just means about the time you get used to it, it’s spring again.
But up in Massachusetts, our woodpile wanes. I thought I’d have a cord, driven up from Alabama by my daddy, as impractical as that seems, to stack on it. But that’s not the case. We burn a few logs and the pile is noticeably smaller. I still don’t have a truck and don’t know the men at my church to call to see if they’d cleared any land. Or had any trees knocked down in the April storms.
But I came in today, which was quite mild by Boston standards, and found an envelope on the floor of our entryway. It had my mother’s return address on it. It was kind of beat up.
Inside, there was a check for $200.
On the bottom line, there was a note: